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Not Extremely Enough

The New York Times recently published “An Extremely Detailed Map of New York City Neighborhoods” and an accompanying “Extremely Detailed Guide to the Extremely Detailed Map of New York City Neighborhoods.” They are not information about the neighborhoods themselves, but rather about their names. It’s a weird bit of sociology: the names are important to knowing where you are both geographically and socially, but they vary over time and depending on who’s talking. The names are socially constructed, with slang, daily use by natives and tourists, and concerted efforts by realtors and government agencies all playing a role.

Any time I see an interactive graphic like this, I immediately test it with whatever random bits of my experience are appropriate. The block I grew up on in Flushing is listed as “>99% Flushing” for what do people call this. That’s good, I guess. On the other hand, the Bronx block my father grew up on, which he would say was in East Tremont, is listed as 50% East Tremont, 18% Belmont, 18% Fordham, 8% Allerton, 3% Melrose, and 3% Westchester Square. “East Tremont” looks to be smaller in people’s imagination today than it was in the 1930s.

Some names are gone completely, long unused except in history. The Tenderloin does not appear on the map, or Gashouse District. I used to live on the edge of a defunct neighborhood, San Juan Hill. I didn’t call it that, and that name is not on the map (although “Other” is at a few percent in that area and may include that name). But I was once trying to describe where I lived to someone who knew NYC history quite well and I said “San Juan Hill” and he knew exactly where I was.